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My problem with biopics.

Updated: May 6

Biopics generally offer a glimpse into a life filled with glitz, glamour, and gritty problems. But is there an ethical dilemma when we watch these films, or more specifically when we make them? 

Photo: Robert Daly/KOTO/ Adobe Stock (Education License)  

Often done post-humourlessly, how can one consent to a film being made about them? Where do we draw the line between accurate and fair? 


The 2015 Amy Winehouse documentary Amy, was done tastefully, though, out of fear, it took me years to watch. But I’m unsure if the Amy Winehouse biopic released this year, entitled Back To Black, was the best idea. Though her father (who wasn’t given the rep in the documentary) was happy with the biopic according to AV Club, it seems wrong to go watch it or even to consume the discourse about it in the media.


Amy Winehouse died only 13 years ago, yet Bohemian Rhapsody was made 27 years after Freddie Mercury’s death, Jackie was made 22 years after Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and producers waited 45 years after Elvis’s passing. 


Director Sam Taylor-Johnson seemingly didn’t want “to get any type of approval from the singer’s relatives regarding her film”, Complex reports, yet she still met with them out of respect. Taylor-Jonson told The Hollywood Reporter the family wouldn’t benefit financially from the film, nor would they have input because she didn’t want to have people to answer to.


It’s telling, therefore, that The Guardian called the film a “grotesque insult”. Photos surfaced online during the production of the film, showed actress Marisa Abela sitting on the wet pavement, crying. Maybe, by not consulting Winehouse’s family, Taylor-Johnson might’ve reduced Winehouse’s complexity to something too simple, contributing to a harmful stereotype we have towards women in society. 


To me, it feels murky. Winehouse was someone who lived her life in front of the British media, so for the British media to make a film about her again feels wrong. 


Similarly, the Disney+ mini-series Pam And Tommy, came out in the February of 2022, without the approval of Pamela Anderson. One of the two main characters in the story didn’t want the story to be told, and it was. It seems quite ironic that a story about consent didn’t have the consent of the person it happened to. 


Although, there have been cases of successful biopics, like Rocketman. Elton John’s biopic which he fought to have made for 20 years aimed to tell his rise to fame. John served as the film’s executive producer. In a Paramount Featurette, John said he “[wasn’t] looking at Targon Egerton. [He] was looking at [himself]”. 

 

So, personally, do I like biopics? As much as any other movie. Does it feel weird to watch them? Yes. I think all biopics have their pros and cons, some more than others, but I’m not going to tell you what to, or not to watch. Am I going to see the new Amy Winehouse biopic: Maybe? I don’t know. 


 Back to Black was released in Australia on April 11.

 


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